Saginaw

Ignacio Guerrero


By Melanie Kudzia

"Go to school, and not only that, pay attention!"

This is one bit of advice Ignacio and Antonia Guerrero passed on to their children and grandchildren. They insist on their family attending school, working hard and succeeding.

Mexican Americans didn’t always have the opportunity to be equally educated. In fact, this was the pre-World War II reality for most Latinos in the United States.

Antonia Medina Guerrero


By Melanie Kudzia

"Go to school, and not only that, pay attention!"

This is one bit of advice Ignacio and Antonia Guerrero passed on to their children and grandchildren. They insist on their family attending school, working hard and succeeding.

Mexican Americans didn’t always have the opportunity to be equally educated. In fact, this was the pre-World War II reality for most Latinos in the United States.

Herlinda Mendoza Buitron Estrada


By Whitney Sterling

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the entire Buitron family, including all nine children, was sitting in church when the pastor shocked the congregation by announcing the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. For Herlinda Estrada, this was more confusing than informative.

Manuela Maymie Garcia Ontiveros


By Carrie Nelson

Manuela Ontiveros dedicated her life to her family and community and to preserving her treasured Mexican heritage and traditions.

"You instill in your children and grandchildren pride [in their heritage]," Ontiveros said. "Even though my grandchildren are half white, they know how to cook enchiladas and tamales.

"I try to pass on the traditions of the Mexican people, traditions that they have nothing to be ashamed of," she said.

"I'm 81 years old, so I've seen a lot," Ontiveros said. "I'm glad I grew up in this community."

Carlota Ayala Ortega


By Angela Walker

Dr. Carlota Ayala-Ortega sits proudly by as husband Guadalupe Ortega recalls his memories from World War II.

Guadalupe recalls the time the owner of a museum learned of his many medals earned in combat, and told him "I'll make a hero out of you."

Guadalupe quickly answered, "I am a hero, I have been for years, and I don't tell anybody."

Ortega smiles and nods her head in agreement.

Many would say she’s a hero in her own right.

Alejandra Rojas Zuniga


By Stephanie Babb

Strong family ties and a good work ethic made the difficulties of World War II a learning experience, Alejandra Rojas Zuniga said.

"It was rough for us attending school in Texas because discrimination was bad there," Zuniga said. "I remember trying to get along with all the kids in the classroom, but they looked at us like we didn't belong there."

Zuniga remembers the teacher would at times ask the class to come together for a drawing assignment, and Zuniga would sit next to a little Anglo girl.

Guadalupe F. Ortega


By Gillian Lawlor

Guadalupe Ortega remembers having to put a dead Japanese soldier into a foxhole with him to escape detection by enemy forces -- just one incident in his harrowing World War II military career.

Even before he received his call for duty, Ortega knew he’d probably be drafted, but didn’t relish the idea of joining the military. Although his near-death experiences in the Army justified his trepidation, he also acknowledges what he learned as a soldier helped him long afterward.

Trinidad Ayala Nerio


By Lauren Smith

From a troubled first marriage to surviving alone with her three kids while her second husband, Arnold, served in the Army for two years, Trinidad Nerio has learned to take the good with the bad.

"Life is life," Nerio said. "We've had a good life. Arnold is a good man ... the best in Saginaw."

Nerio was born in 1918 in Piedras Negras, Mexico, part of a family of 10 children -- six boys and four girls. When she was 6, the family moved to Texas for two years, where the children learned to speak English.

Arnif G. Nerio


By Caren Panzer

Arnif G. Nerio felt his life was really coming together in the fall of 1942. While so many were still out of work, he’d just landed a job at General Motors in Saginaw, Mich.

Just three months earlier, he’d married Trinidad Ayala, and they were expecting a child.

When he was drafted into the U.S. Army on Dec. 4, 1942, his life changed.

Nerio pleaded with the officials to let him wait until his daughter was born. The Army assured him that his family would be taken care of and shipped him to Little Rock, Ark., for basic training. He was 20.

Manuel Najera


By Leigh Cole

Manuel Najera certainly made his presence known in the service during World War II, flying 35 missions in Europe before coming home.

"If I would have died, it would have ended my family," Najera said.

But he took that risk and became an aerial machine gunner in the Army Air Forces in 1943.